| 5.3°C Dublin

Fionn mixes it up but doesn’t trip

When Bob Dylan arrived in Britain in 1965 reporters asked him what his message was. "Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb," he replied. Fionn Regan would appear to have a lot in common with that version of Dylan.

He's got an unfeasibly large haircut, black canvas jeans that are as tight as leggings and a woman's overcoat with a corduroy collar. His pronouncements are couched in abstract metaphors and outrageous similes.

His new album, The Shadow of an Empire, is an exciting basement bash, more amped-up and freewheeling than the debut album that wowed the critics, collected awards and marked the songwriter from Bray as a maverick talent with global potential.

"I didn't want it to be a beautiful box with no content," he says of the new album. "I see it more like a cloth sack laced with sapphires. Something that you pick up and it reveals itself to you. I suppose it comes from . . . er . . . it's always so hard for me to articulate that . . ."

Character

I'd wondered if Fionn would be able to stay in character when we met. I thought he might waver and begin spouting the same auld self-aggrandising shite you hear from most musicians. But he holds firm.

"A lot of things are done on little bits of paper," he says attempting to explain how he moved from acoustic folkie to brash electric warrior.

"I'm talking about learning to focus on the writing desk even when the house is falling down around you. Even when you're on a tightrope and the winds are high, you're learning to be able to balance and to put the pencil to . . . er . . . The thing with touring is that the sails may take a hammering but if you stay in the harbour you might rust . . . you do see things from different angles."

Right, enough of that. Tell us this, Fionn, did you get slapped around at school? "Not really. My memory of school is that the three-page composition was some source of joy."

Get a kicking in the schoolyard, perhaps? "I definitely felt like I'd come in on a different train," he muses. "Maybe everybody feels like that. But the thing about school, with me, is that I didn't really go in a whole lot. I missed pretty big stepping stones. I remember missing the change from the pencil to the pen and things like that. I don't know how I managed to wing it. I found, as well, that I would sing and do these solos in the choir. I found a way to paper over the tracks in that way."

Yeah, fine. But what was the drug of choice during the making of this album? Taken aback, Fionn clams up. He needs some prompting. "It could be caffeine," I say helpfully.

"Salt," he declares, sounding relieved.

"Sea salt?" I enquire, seeing as how he's been banging on about boats and sails.

"Yeah, I think there's sea salt blowing around in the background," he adds brightly. "Whatever ailment that cures."

Regan is cool. He can think on his feet. And, impressively, he's produced the new album with his mates in a disused factory space in Bray. Sonically it's a triumph.

Some of the songs had been knocking around for a while. Fionn explains how he'd already recorded a second album with hot-shot producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams) but it was deemed unsatisfactory. "That record got clamped on the docks and is somewhere in the vaults," he says by way of explanation. "I don't know what's going on with that. But I did record some of the songs again. At that time I feel I was writing two records. In a way there's been two records since. One is an acoustic record but it's a big jump from the first record. And there's this one.

"The challenge is always how to launch it. How you get the boat into the water, you know. That's the challenge now and it can't be compared to any other time. The song-writing is the joy part. That's where you get your kicks. The rest of it, that can be pretty hard to navigate your way through."

Rollicking

To his enormous credit, Regan bit the bullet and came up trumps. (Jeez, this mixed metaphor thing is catching.) The Shadow of the Empire is a rollicking, shoot-'em-up set of songs that exude a sense of fun, freedom and an artist fighting for his right to make his own statement.

"The only reason that I ended up producing this record is because I found myself on the boat and somebody had to grab the wheel or else who knows what would have happened," he says.

"I set up in a humble fashion. You don't try to make something that's from somewhere else. If you're in a shed, let it be a shed."

We've seen how the music industry chews up and disposes of talent. From having been a young hopeful with an acoustic guitar, Regan seems to be winning the fight.

"I had to learn," he says. "Plough my own furrow. Sometimes you have to be stubborn. You have to not let something driving by catch your eye and you don't go running after it. I listened to someone like Leonard Cohen talk about his work, or Serge Gainsbourg, the way he held himself. Woody Guthrie. All those people. When everything is going this way or that way, you listen to them speak, or to their music, and you feel like you're connected back into something and you think, 'Thank God'."

And what of the glittering world of the music business, Fionn? "There's a lot of tripwire there."

Fionn Regan plays Vicar Street on March 13


Privacy